Universal Film Magazine_Chris_Marker

By the nature of the cryptic puzzle they embody, it is difficult to describe someone who is enigmatic. And even more elusive to capture the brilliance of someone who is erudite. That to me encapsulates the challenge of writing an obituary of Chris Marker, French documentarian/transmedia artist, pioneer of the essay film, who passed away last week, aged 91.

Ironically in this case, tributes on twitter have shed unexpected enlightenment:

“When I saw "La Jetée", I had this arcane glimpse of the universe”, wrote one fan. "He realised there was no escape out of time", and “he changed my waking life” write others, revealing the recurring theme of time, memory and consciousness that marked Chris Marker’s indelible exploration of life.

A quick glance through tweets in memorium evidence that Marker’s life – and death - has touched cinephiles as diverse as adult film star turned-filmmaker Sacha Grey to renowned documentarian Errol Morris, who wrote of the ‘technoshaman’: “One of my heroes. (How many truly great filmmakers are there? He was one of them.)”

Guardian Film tweeted that Marker “left a generous legacy of cinematic genius". Richard Brody of the New Yorker quoted; “For Marker the "work of memory is the very definition of art."

It is fitting to find that in remembering Marker, we also delve into the recurring theme of his greatest films - memory. And ultimately Chris Marker, in true evidence of his own greatness, leaves us with the last and perhaps most profound words; “When men die, they enter history. When statues die, they enter art. These deaths are what we call culture".

Marker has been called both 'one of the most influential figures in 20th century cinema‘ and 'the best known author of unknown movies’. His short 1962 film ‘La Jetée’, comprised entirely of black and white still shots with voiceover narration, was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s ‘Twelve Monkeys’ (starring Brad Pitt in his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominated role). But Marker’s real influence is found in more abstract forms than box office profits or film accolades. The New York Times mentions “A bar in Tokyo’s famous Golden Gai district is named for “La Jetée” — an honour that Mr. Marker once said was “worth more to me than any number of Oscars.”

Much will be remembered of the films of Chris Marker, but in testimony to the mystery that is Marker, less will be known of the man who was born Christian François Bouche Villeneuve. The director revealed in one of his final interviews (to the French magazine ‘Les Inrockuptibles’) “I chose a pseudonym, Chris Marker, pronounceable in most languages, because I was very intent on traveling. No need to delve further.”

The New York Times wrote in their obituary for Marker; “His films often feature a first-person narrator, a device he once called “a sign of humility.” They abound with avatars and alter egos, including his own cat, Guillaume-en-Egypt, which sometimes appeared, in the flesh and in cartoon form, as his surrogate.”

@SnubPollard may not have known of the significance when she tweeted “Has literally everyone posted this as their farewell tribute to Chris Marker?;”

As Radio France Internationale reported, Chris Marker had two loves in his life, ‘Cats and Cinema’. So perhaps that simple 3 minute celluloid reverie (‘Cat Listening to Music’), gifted by the artist to the MoMA, might be called the quintessential Chris Marker film.

When I studied Marker in film-school, I knew not that we shared these two loves (of cats and cinema) but I came to learn that I loved cinema for a reason I never expected- a reason Marker was the first to demonstrate to me, through his mastery of the avant-garde.

I was once told by a celebrated filmmaker that poetry can never be filmed. Forever more I will refute that he was wrong, because Chris Marker showed me on celluloid the true meaning of poetry in motion. Marker’s reflective filmmaking style taught me, by example, that the voice of a filmmaker is not just in his images and his words, but the ideas that he teases and gently challenges to catapult his viewers to new dimensions of consciousness they never expected. He taught me to play, with wide-eyed curiosity, and to break the rules in order to learn new ones, for we are only bound by the limits of our imagination, not the limits of a frame. His films embodied both style and depth, in his ability to capture the transience of an idea in one film cell, and question it in the next.

I am not the only one who has found I am simply left to say goodbye, by echoing the same subtlety and poetry Chris Marker evoked in his sublime reflections on memory and the human spirit that were called films. In one of his works Marker quotes, from a funeral, the poignant last words of a Japanese woman to her cat. They are sweet and sad words which I will never forget, and - in respect to a master - I now repeat in memory of Marker and his immemorial films, which showed the soul of a true visionary; "Cat, wherever you are, peace be with you."

Wendy Dent